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The Poms cut carbon without whingeing, why can’t we?


Alex Kazaglis

Alex Kazaglis

This is an extract from an article written by Alex Kazaglis, an Australian economist at the CCC, first published in The Punch. In it he gives his personal view of Australian climate change policy in light of the UK’s recent commitment to the fourth carbon budget.

Julia Gillard must find it hard to imagine coalition politics ever resulting in Government commitments to radically reduce carbon emissions. This week, however, the UK Government, run by a Conservative-led coalition presiding over an era of recession and budget cuts, confirmed their commitment to green the UK economy.

UK Cabinet approved a reduction in emissions to around 50 per cent in 2025 in its decision on the “Fourth Carbon Budget”, which is a level of allowable emissions for the period 2023 -27. This builds on the UK’s previous commitments in the nearer term – the first three carbon budgets.

The carbon budget’s framework puts the UK economy on track to contributing its share to keeping warming to under the internationally recognised benchmark of around two degrees Celsius.

The decision implies that the UK will now have to roll-out low carbon and renewable power at scale, efficient vehicles and low carbon heating technologies across much of the UK building stock by the mid to late 2020’s. In short, the UK`s Fourth Carbon Budget is a commitment to reinventing the economy as low carbon by mid century.

It follows a recent decision to introduce a carbon price underpin to support power sector decarbonisation. This will rise to £40/tCO2 in 2020 and further in the 2020’s – much higher than the maximum $40 price being debated in Australia.

To begin to understand why these decisions occurred we need to look to the unique regulatory environment within which the UK operates, which includes a domestic Climate Change Act and a carbon price.

The Climate Change Act sets an overall carbon reduction target for the UK economy – to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The Act then obliges the Government to lay out the pathway to achieve a long-term carbon target in detail, and establishes in law an independent body (the Committee on Climate Change) to monitor and report on Government’s progress. Government must respond to the Committee’s progress reports in parliament on a yearly basis.

These elements help to prevent progress toward long term climate goals from falling victim to the short-term demands of party politics and other influential lobbying. By committing to a detailed decarbonisation pathway that begins immediately, the ability for incumbent Governments to delay action to a time beyond their tenure is replaced by legal obligations to stay on track with their long term commitments.

As the CEO of the Committee on Climate Change, David Kennedy said today:  “We have moved into uncharted territory and are going to be watched closely by other countries”. Australia will be one of those that will have a keen interest in how things develop here in the UK.

Read the original article in the Punch